By now, most of us know the story of Mad Max director George Miller and his never-realized Justice League project. But did you know there was another famous film he almost went on to direct for Warner Bros.?
Some of us may never get over what Justice League: Mortal could have been. Perhaps the pain will be less acute over this new information, considering the final product was a relatively well-received movie. Miller (along with Roland Joffé) were at one point set to direct Contact.
Ultimately directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump), 1997's Contact starred Jodie Foster as Dr. Eleanor Arroway, a SETI scientist whose long search for alien life leads to actual discovery and more doubt than she's every experienced in life. It also starred Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, James Woods, John Hurt, and Angela Bassett.
The film changed a bit from Carl Sagan's original novel (it cut out tons of math, science, and religion and put first contact into the hands of only Ellie) but I wasn't aware until today that Sagan and Ann Druyan started Contact as a screenplay for a movie. A screenplay that then turned into a novel. And then turned back into a movie.
Mark Lamprell, the writer of Miller's Babe: Pig in the City, recently spoke to IF Magazine about his time working at Kennedy Miller making documentaries (including one for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) but also discussed writing Contact's screenplay with Menno Meyjes.
“I'd gotten to be a funny little fixture there at Kennedy Miller, and George was approached to do Contact, the Carl Sagan novel.
“We spent six months writing the screenplay, and I was very much the junior writer with Menno Meyjes, who wrote Empire of the Sun and The Color Purple. It was really Menno driving it, with George and Lynda Obst as well, the producer.
“Our screenplay was greenlit and all ready to go, and then I think George wanted an extension to make it properly, and the studio wouldn't give it to him. They fired him and put Robert Zemeckis in charge.
“In a few shocking days, we went from being a greenlit movie to it all going away. After that, I remember I was quite devastated.”
Yeesh. But that's Hollywood for you, right? Lamprell went on to explain how Miller's version might have differed from Zemeckis'.
“It was a much more interesting screenplay, and I think George would say this too,” he told IF Magazine. “Because of my Jesuit connections, I was able to get all those amazing Jesuit scientists in, to talk to us about how you operate as a man of faith in the world of science. We were having really interesting conversations and Carl [Sagan] was thrilled to be having those. It wasn't about being populist or talking down to an audience. Not that Contact necessarily did that, but ours was much more ambitious intellectually.”
Interesting. Contact is a film I very much enjoy, but I didn't read the novel until years after the film. It's true; there is a lot more that could have been done in terms of big ideas about the universe and our place in it, but perhaps that would have been too much for 90s audiences. I'm not even sure most of us are ready for it today. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar certainly touched on similar topics but focused more on the sci-fi aspect. What do you think?